MARTIN FEINSTEIN will spend most of today at Dulles Airport, speaking French and wrapping up the final details of an idea that was born 12 years ago. Two days later, the Kennedy Center will launch an ambitious three-ring opening night for its 12-day festival: "Paris: The Romantic Epoch."

Playing simultaneously on Tuesday night will be the Comedie Francaise in Victor Hugo's "Ruy Blas" at the Eisenhower Theater, the Stuttgart Ballet in the Opera House performing a production of "Lady of the Camellias" planned Orchestre de Paris with its 180-voice chorus in the Concert Hall, launching a Berlioz Festival with "The Damnation of Faust."

From May 15 through May 26, the Kennedy Center will be turned over to an exploration of what happened in Paris from the 1820s through the 1850s, when the French capital became the artistic center of Europe and the focus of the romantic movement in music, poetry, fiction, drama and the dance.

Approximately 475 visiting performers, for whom hotel rooms, meals and transportation are being arranged in a tricky logistic scramble, are only part of what will happen in the festival: Related films will be playing at the American Film Institute; paintings from the Louvre will be shown at the National Gallery; a critics' symposium in the Terrace Theater (open to the public) will analyze the works of Berlioz, and other speakers will dicuss the painting and poetry of the period. Soloists and Washington musical organizations will perform the music of other Parisian composers such as Cherubini, Liszt, Chopin, Paganini, Bellini, Rossini and Donizetti.

The tumult of activity is really necessary to do justice to the subject. Recovering rapidly from the Napoleonic disaster, Paris in this period became an incredibly active center for all sorts of artistic production. At the center of it, Victor Hugo was practically a literary movement in himself, turning out poetry, fiction and drama at a fantastic pace and brandishing the banner of literary revolution in such works as "Hernani," whose opening night caused a riot. Balzac and the Dumas family (father and son) added to the avalanche of vivid prose, while in poetry such writers as Lamartine and Musset explored the inner vibrations of a new sensibility, and [WORD ILLEGIBLE] Gautier preached the new gospel of "art for art's sake."

By the end of the era, a new age had been born; Flaubert had published "Madame Bovary" and Baudelaire was exploring the symbolic overtones of reality he found mostly unpalatable.

Musically, except for Berlioz, Paris was more a center for foreign talents than a producer of native geniuses, but foreign musicians flocked there - not only the internationally famous Paganini, Choplin and Rossini, but an obscure young German named Richard Wagner who would fulfill his dreams later with the help of a mad monarch in Bavaria.

Paris was crazy about ballet during this period, so much so that operas composed elsewhere had to have spectacular ballet sequences inserted for their Paris productions - inserted relatively late in the show for the convenience of powerful ballet fanciers who seldom arrived for the beginning. Ballet also thrived as an independent art; "Giselle," for example, had its world premiere in paris in 1841.

"The seed of this festival was planted about 12 years ago," Feinstein recalled in a recent luncheon conversation, "when I was working for Hurok and writing about 'Giselle' for a souvenir program. 'What a time that was,' I thought - so many great artists living in the same city, so much creativity, so many world premieres. At the time, I had no idea of staging a festival, I was just dazzled by the magnetism of the period."

Thinking about staging festivals is now part of Feinstein's job as executive director of performing arts at the Kennedy Center, and the notion began to take a more solid form around 1974 or 1975.

Actual negotiations with the French government took more than 3 years, and they were part of a polyphonic pattern of negotiations which have brought to the Kennedy Center a host of foreign orchestras and ballet companies as well as the world's most noted opera companies.

The Kennedy Center board of trustees and its chairman, Roger L. Stevens, learned about Feinstein's plans before he approached the French, but still relatively late in the planning process. One of Feinstein's specialties is surprisng people, and the Kennedy Center board is one of his prime targets for such surprises.

"Some people say I don't confide in the board enough on future projects," Feinstein says, "but it's a question of timing. How would it have been, for example, if I had gone to them four years ago and told them I am thinking of bringing Vienna here? They would have asked me how much it cost, and I would have had to answer honestly, about $3 million. I would have been out of a job."

The Austrian assignment was harder than the French one, because France has a regular budget for large cultural exchange programs and Austria has not. Feinstein began working on th Austrian visit in 1972, when the Kennedy Center was brand new, but got nowhere at all for several years.

"To bring the Vienna State Opera and the Vienna Philharmonic to the United States, the Austrian government had to approve a special expenditure of $1.6 million, which will cover about half of the actual cost," Feinstein said. "That's an enormous sum for a small country, particularly one that was going through a period of financial austerity when it made the commitment."

When it looked like the prospects might be better, Feinstein began his groundwork in his country, persuading Cyrus Vance and Henry Kissinger to write to contacts in the Austrian government and tell them how important it would be for the Vienna State Opera to visit the Kennedy Center. And still it wasn't easy.

He remembers his negotiations with Hannes Androach, the Austrian minister of finance, after he had already persuaded the people of the State Opera that they wanted to make the trip: "I asked for an appointment to talk to Minister Androach and discovered that he was busy defending his programs in Parliament, and I began waiting day-by-day until he would be available, extending the reservation on my hotel room one day at a time. After three days, I got an evening appointment, and the Opera people told me, 'Come back afterward and tell us what happened; we will all be waiting.'

"When I got there, a little early, I found myself in the middle of a cocktail party, and when I tracked down the minister, he was sipping a glass of champagne. I reminded him that we had a 7:30 appointment and he said he remembered. At 7:27, he came over to me and said, 'Let's go to my office,' and when we got there he told me that Austria was suffering extreme financial difficulties and could not afford this added expense.

"I told him to consider it as an investment in Austrian tourism and described the visit of La Scala, with 90 music critics in attendance from all over the United States and special radio broadcasts. I couldn't promise television coverage, but even without that, I said I felt they would get far more than $1 million worth of publicity. The authorization took eight or 10 weeks and it came through too late to bring the Vienna Opera in for the 1978 season."

Befor approaching Andre Gautrat, who heads France's cultural exchange agency, Feinstein went to Daniel Barenboim, music director of the Orchestre de Paris, and persuaded him that he wanted to conduct a Berlioz festival in Washington. Then he went to Pierre Duc, director of the Comedie Francaise, and suggested that the 300-year-old troupe might bring over its production of "Hernani," which is a key work of the romantic movement and relatively familiar as the source of a Verdi opera. "Dux saw problems about the 'Hernani' production and suggested 'Ruy Blas' instead - and of course that is a familiar title because of the overture," Feinstein said.

Once he had Barenboim and Dux lined up, he recalls, he went to Gautrat and "boldly and baldly asked him for the Orchestre de Paris, the Opera or at least its ballet company and the Comedie Francaise. The French were quite wonderful, not only in sharing with us their artists and their culture but in supplying the money to make all this possible; $1 million, which will cover more than half of the expenses. But Gautrat thought the expense of sending the Opera ballet would be too much, so I went to Stuttgart, where I already have a cordial relationship with John Neumeier. I asked him to do a ballet on the life of George Sand, and he liked the idea but there were problems and delays, we may have this ballet as a sort of epilogue to the festival in 1981. Meanwhile, he thought of doing one on Cleopatra, but one night he was at dinner with Marcia Haydee and the light hit her face in a way that made him think of the Dumas heroine, Camille. The result was a new ballet, 'Lady of the Camellias,' with music by Chopin."

In spite of its size and complexity, the festival will have a few gaps. Opera, which was an important part of the Paris scene, will not be represented in a fully staged production ("I would have liked to do one Meyerbeer opera, time and resources permitting," says Feinstein, a tinge of regret in his voice) and other parts of the grand plan have fallen by the wayside.

The Paganini evening, with violinist Ruggiero Ricci, was the last part of the festival to fall into place.

Feinstein and Ricci reached early agreement that a concert devoted entirely to music by Paganini would be too much Paganini, and then thought of presenting a typical program of the kind he used to play in Paris, including music by other composers. "We had to adapt that idea for modern tastes," said Feinstein. Concerts in that time were nearly interminable, usually including an orchestra and a singer as well as an instrumental soloist. The first half of the concert would begin with the orchestra playing an overture, then there might be a soprano, after which Paganini would come on, perhaps playing a concerto followed by some solo pieces. Then there would be an intermission and the whole cycle would be followed again with new material: overture, soprano and Paganini. "We have tried to capture the spirit of these concerts, while adapting the content to the taste and needs of our own time," said Feinstein.

One question that came up was whether paganini ever played Beethoven's "Kreutzer" Sonata, which Ricci would like to include if there were any historic justification. Feinstein checked the available biographies of the violinist and could not find any mention of this music, then he began some primary research, examining posters advertising Paganini concerts. No mention of the "Kreutzer" was found on any of the posters, but they were all from his London appearances; perhaps he played the "Kreutzer" in Paris. At last report, the investigation was still underway, with an exhaustive search for the programs of Paganini's Paris concerts New information may turn up before May 24, when Ricci will give his Paganini evening.

Even with the arrangements all made, the money in hand or promised, the festival remains in hand or promised, the festival remains a tremendous logistic problem, with details ranging from ground transportation to language barriers still to be negotiated. "We will have busses running all over town, taking participants to their rehearsals and performances," Feinstein said. "For the Comedie Francaise, there will be simultaneous translations at each performance; we have two people coming down from New York to handle it."

In his negotiation for various foreign spectaculars at the Kennedy Center, Feinstein has sometimes wished he himself had a simultaneous translation, but says he always manages somehow. "French is the only foreign language that I speak usefully," he said. "I learned it at Berlitz on the GI Bill when I was beginning with Hurok.

"I also understand a little German and Italian, but not enough for negotiations. I remember, when I was negotiating with La Scala, they asked me, 'Do you speak Italian?' and I answered, 'Only libretto Italian.' It would be hard to negotiate a contract with 'Celeste Aida' or 'La donn' e mobile,' except maybe to say 'Aiuta me.'

"So we negotiated in La Scala French."